This year I decided to give myself one word to focus on throughout the year as my mantra. That word, funnily enough, was FOCUS. Let’s see how I’ve been getting on nine months down the line...
FOCUS my belongings:
This year I moved house twice within the space of a month. My friends unknowingly volunteered to help me move the hefty amount of stuff I called ‘my belongings'. I took the look of shock on their friends as a sign for change - it was time for a clear out! Charles and I donated three bin bags full of things we didn’t need and threw away (or recycled) another two while unpacking our new flat. I purged all of the clothes that I had rarely worn, were worn out or I no longer had use for. I donated a quarter of my shoe collection. Chemistry textbooks and folders went back to the office. Drawers were pruned and re-organised. To-do lists for loose ends were made. One of my 25 before 26 things (throw away 25 items) was achieved, several times over! Needless to say, I feel a lot lighter and I’m sure my wardrobe does too! Now I just have to tackle everything I left at my parent’s house...
FOCUS on myself:
I’ve been a bit useless at this part of the mantra so far. I haven’t enjoyed cooking so much this year due to living in shared halls and simply not being at home until late. Regular posts on this blog have been non-existent as my energy has been taken up with work (hello PhD life). I will try harder to do the things I enjoy doing more often! Maybe I can make it up in the last few months of the year.
FOCUS my work:
I laugh at Emily nine months ago. A regular schedule for a PhD student? What was I thinking. I have however tried my hardest to leave the office or lab before 6pm every day. This has been achievable most days, with the help of my fellow researchers reminding me of my goal. There have, however, been several late nights - including one where only a water-cutout forced me to leave the lab. The nature of my research project at the start of the year meant I had to prioritise getting the work completed quickly - meaning early mornings and late nights. Now my work has reached a more steady state and so I’m able to control my time more successfully (phew).
So there you have it - a FOCUS three different ways. I'll update you again at the end of the year.
This beast occupied most of my time last October. You probably couldn't call a 44 page report (excluding the five introductory pages of contents and standard boring stuff) a beast, but it sure felt like one.
The confirmation report, in its simplest form, is a collection of your first year PhD research. You and the report are subsequently examined in a viva-voca to test your competency and capability to complete your PhD within the time frame you have been given (the University allows 4 years but I only have funding for 3 and I sure am not self-funding any longer).
I handed in my report a month early, just before I left for New Zealand at the start of December last year. Taking a month-long holiday has wiped some of the details of my project from my brain - fortunately I have a handy report to refresh my memory before my viva next week! I’ve been trying not to think about the viva too much and undertaken some ‘positive procrastination’ by doing more experimental work this week (the results are looking pretty good). I will however be revising some of the theory before the big day! Wish me luck...
This post completes one of the 25 goals I have set myself to achieve before my 26th birthday.
I couldn't say no when my supervisor asked me if I would present my work to one of the industrial partners of my PhD in Germany on a three-day trip. I actually appreciated the chance to stop and gather my research so far into something coherent. With a lot of presenting experience behind me, I also no longer get nervous at the thought of explaining my research to others. So with a memory-stick containing my slides in my bag, I jetted off to Frankfurt with my supervisor last week to catch the team up on my part of the project.
My first challenge of the trip was to figure out how the sat-nav worked in the rental car. Once I navigated the German system enough to program in our destination and ‘Tim’ (the UK guide voice), we set off from Frankfurt airport with our sights set on Lahnau. We arrived after a short drive and went straight into the meeting.
The presentation went really well, resulting in a lot of work for me to follow up on! Afterwards the team took us out for dinner at an old mill by the river, where I had my first taste of German cider. Although I mixed it with lemonade to try and sweeten it up, I think I will stick to the wine next time!
Before we left Lahnau I had to get a memento of our visit. Taking a photo of a manhole cover may seem strange, but I snap a photo of one in every town I visit as a reminder of where I've been. European covers are a lot more interesting than those in Britain as they are often adorned with the name of the town or district and it's coat of arms. It's a tradition I started back when I used to live in Germany and makes a cheap and easy keepsake.
The next day we met the Moselle river where it joins the Rhine at Koblenz and took a scenic drive alongside it to Cochem. The town sounds like a cool name for a cobalt chemistry group, but I can assure you that absolutely no inorganic chemistry was discussed over our lunch outside the town hall. We did however sample some of the local wine from the steep slopes of the Mosel vineyards we had passed on our journey.
After a stroll around the town we set off for Worms, along what can be described as my supervisor's worst nightmare - up about 7 steep hairpin bends. I thought that the Sat-nav was sending us the wrong way but Prof was raring to take up the challenge. We met some pretty active mature cyclists at the top, who I think were glad to be cycling down the hill!
The trip was rounded off the next day with a walk down memory lane - or more accurately, a walk down Worms high street. I spent my placement year (September 2009-2010) working for Grace Davison there. The company continues to host Surrey university placement students; I accompanied my supervisor on her visit to check on their progress.
With fond memories of the mocktail 'Kiba'(a mix of banana and cherry juice), I had my heart set on visiting the Wein- und Bierschänke for our final evening. Unfortunately the current placement students instead took us for a meal at (what is referred to by the locals as) 'the chicken place'. As you can imagine, it was not the best place for a plant-based meal. The view of the river, the company and the beer made up for the fact that my salad arrived with ham, despite me specifically ordering it without.
After a wander through the town buying gifts on the last day, I took the bus to Grace - the same bus I took almost everyday to work four years ago! The ride was a lot smoother than I remember it. Once I arrived I had a quick catch up with some of the technicians and researchers I used to work with before we had to leave to catch our flight home. Frankfurt business lounge was our one last indulgence, although it was slightly tarred with the lingering smell of lukewarm Frankfurters (farewell Germany)!
Road tripping with my Supervisor was a new experience for me and I'm glad it was Germany we had the pleasure of driving together. Germany still feels like a second home to me - I enjoy going back there often. Last year Charles and I took a trip to Dresden over Christmas and I think a weekend trip to Berlin may be on the cards next year. Hopefully see you again soon Germany and until then, viel Spaß!
It's the 100th day of my PhD! How do I know this? I'm tweeting my way through my PhD, one day at a time.
#TweetmyPhD Day 49: Felt like part of a family in my research group today. Have also been planning new experiments, exciting times ahead!
— Emily James (@emilyreacts) March 27, 2014
— Emily James (@emilyreacts) June 9, 2014